Where do we go from modernism, dear reader? You might not want to go anywhere, which is perfectly fair enough. Or you might argue that ‘modernism’ is an arbitrary category, a taxonomical illusion – also, fair enough. It’s undeniable that the literary revolutions of the early 20th century – games with form and stream of consciousness – have defined the avant-garde ever since. Yet when formal experimentation has become a stock signal of revolution, isn’t that precisely the sort of convention that a revolutionary should abhor? But where else do you go? Back to 19th-century realism? Or prose so manically chopped up that it makes Finnegans Wake look like Harry Potter? Are we stuck with perpetual reiterations of a vanished revolution – tribute modernism, in short? And aren’t these antiquarian subversions really just a form of cultural nostalgia, like being a Romantic poet in 1915?
Anakana Schofield’s second novel, Martin John, which was shortlisted for Canada’s Giller Prize, supplies a wonderfully provocative and ultimately profound response to all of the above. Schofield’s first novel, Malarky (2012), was an acerbic black comedy set in Ireland, starring ‘Our Woman’ and her son. In Martin John, Schofield portrays